The deluded religious belief that any people or nation or church is a “chosen” people is the root of almost all our troubles.
The earth bursts with life. Far right exclusionary religion bursts with death. If there is a creator of life He/She/It must hate fundamentalist religion.
The countries in the world that are the most fundamentalist and religious, and/or those whose identity is most religion-based, are the world’s greatest troublemakers. Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the USA, Vatican City and the state of Israel come to mind.
If the rest of the human race could find a time machine to roll back the clock and make a world where these countries/city states had never existed we’d live in a better world.
Just take one example of religion’s baleful influence: President Woodrow Wilson’s messianic religion-inspired intervention in World War One. “My life would not be worth living” Wilson wrote, “if it were not for the driving power of religion, for faith, pure and simple.” (Letter to Nancy Toy, 1915.)
Wilson’s religious views were the driving force in his political career, informing his quest for world peace. And like all fanatics he decided to achieve this “peace” through war. The devout Woodrow Wilson upset fellow Presbyterians as he moved the nation toward entering World War One, including William Jennings Bryan, who quit as secretary of state in protest.
What did Wilson’s religious idealism actually achieve? Germany’s loss of World War One led to the rise of Hitler, and the Second World War. Wilson picked sides between two equally tarnished nationalistically-inspired colonial contenders and weighed in. So Wilson set the stage for the rise of Hitler and World War Two. With no World War Two there would be no Israel because there would have been no holocaust. Zionism would have simply become a forgotten quirk. And there would have been no Cold War either, maybe not even a Soviet Union.
The twentieth century began with wars rooted in religion and nationalism and ended as the century of wars rooted in ideological atheism led by the likes of Stalin, Hitler and Mao. Now the twenty first century seems to be shaping up to be the age of renewed wars of religion led by fundamentalist fanatics on all sides who believe in the divine destinies of their nations and/or religions.
These fanatics – they are all of the far right – have ranged from the Ayatollah Khomeinito George W Bush, from the far right leaders of the state of Israel to far right American fundamentalist like Michelle Bachmann who – if she and her fellow travelers have their way – would replace the Constitution and Bill of Rights with the Bible and turn America into a (Reconstructionist) theocracy.
The deluded religious belief that any people or nation or church is a “chosen” people is the root of almost all our troubles. So is the lunacy of believing in “Truth” revealed through one special prophet to one special peoples and/or tribe, be they Jews, Muslims or American Evangelical Christians, or conservative Roman Catholics who believe in the special primacy of their popes.
Eliminate willful self-serving tribal religious delusion from the globe and there might be hope for the survival of the human race. Combine tribalism and religious conviction with nukes and the “right” to exploit the earth and disaster looms.
It’s no accident that the most dangerous cultures today are also the most religiously observant societies. The ultra-religiously observant USA embraces perpetual war as a way of life. With our notion of “exceptionalism,” we fear the “other” who might challenge our notion of having been chosen by God for some special task.
Like the USA the state of Israel has become an intransigent provocation to the world as it slides inexorably toward becoming the next apartheid state taking up oppression based on race and tribe where South Africa left off. Israel is the place where a demographic minority of the “chosen” already represses (and/or has expelled) the majority of the “un-chosen.”
As for the ultra religious state of Pakistan it was actually founded on self-aware religious difference! Pakistan is now the leading exporter of terror worldwide alongside Iran. Both Iran and Pakistan’s intelligence agencies are the purveyors of terror. And both countries (when not busy condemning people to death for the crime of heresy etc.,) see themselves as having special prophetic religious destinies.
The Saudis – “keepers of the Holy Places” – don’t need nukes because they have oil. They threaten destruction to the rest of us every bit as catastrophic as war by funding terror, not to mention exporting the most intolerant forms of Islam worldwide into tens of thousands of madrassas.
If Israel, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Vatican and the USA just went away, or had never existed, and/or changed their essential neuroses and accepted a role of “ordinary” nations filled with just folks or saw their religions as a way, not the way, the world would take a giant step toward peace.
But to admit this, let alone to say it publicly, is to court the condemnation of being anti-Semitic, and/or anti-Islamic, anti-Catholic and/or anti-Christian, even anti-American” … which is a little ironic because the sort of right wing religious Americans who fancy themselves as “pro-American” and “pro-Israel” regularly get our men and women in uniform killed and maimed by starting wars of choice. So who is the patriot here?
Let’s get one thing straight: Iran, the USA, Israel, Pakistan, the Vatican and Saudi Arabia aren’t special, except in the religion-addled brains of the members of their religious right wings and ruling elites. They’re just geographical areas like any others filled with ordinary people like any others, no better and no worse.
Someday these “special” and “chosen” countries will cease to exist as will all nation states. Someday they will not even be remembered because all things pass from time into oblivion, nor will their “holy” books and “holy” places exist forever, simple geology will take care of that. What makes them dangerous today is their shared religious delusion that they are somehow essential and eternal.
The delusion is this: “We’re chosen, special and enlightened, and only we have The Truth.”
Birds of a feather. So it is no coincidence that the USA has a “special” relationship with Israel, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and special “respect” for the Vatican and a soft spot for religion in general, for instance giving religion tax deductions. And thus it is no coincidence we are at war without end.
Certainty is a killer. And tolerance of certainty is, by nature, intolerant when it comes to results.
For instance; we tolerate Zionism and Christian Zionism and so messed with the Middle East, because we picked sides in a religious war and decided to back one “chosen people” (Jews) over another “chosen people” (Muslims). This picking of sides between two equally ridiculous pre-science claims to divine selection is the real – and only – reason for 9/11 and all that’s followed.
America needlessly meddled in a tribal religious Middle Eastern war of religion and has paid and is paying the consequences.
Meanwhile the world’s most pressing problems, from global warming to endless wars relate to the self-“chosen” nations and tribes and countries. Of course China and India et al are involved in global warming too, mostly because they imitated the West. Of course others start wars too. But I’m talking about first causes of war and threatened global destruction.
If and when we’re plunged into capitalist/consumer global ecological destruction chances are future generations – if any – will have right wing fundamentalist religion of all kinds to thank for “justifying” the rape of the earth.
And if and when we’re plunged into an age of nuclear terror, lose Washington DC or New York or London chances are that the fateful moment will be rooted in Middle Eastern/American tribal-religious war. We’ll have the states of Israel, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Vatican and/or the USA to blame for putting humanity on a collision course with reality.
The Jews gave us a book that commands the “dominion” of the earth. The Muslims picked up this theme in their book and predicted the dominion of their one and only “true” religion over the earth, a global “caliphate” that – for instance – the Pakistani extremists and Iranian “holy men” in charge of their nukes (or soon to be in charge of their nukes) are working to implement with the same religious ferocity as that displayed by the Israeli “settlers” as they “justify” stealing another Semitic tribe’s land.
Meanwhile along with American Evangelicals, the Vatican still holds out a misogynistic/homophobic vision of “progress” and still claims that it and it alone is God’s special envoy on earth. The very existence of such exclusivist claims – we’ll go to heaven, it’s hell for the rest of you! – is a threat to human survival.
And the United States, the inventor of the bomb, the only country to ever use it, is the granddaddy of the exploitation of the earth in the name of economic growth, as something “given” by God to us as “natural” and “right.” And now we Americans run a worldwide war making machine par excellence, sure that we are the “good guys.”
The Wilsonian ideological perspective – advocacy of “the spread of democracy,” the spread of Capitalism, in favor of intervention to help create “peace” and the “spread freedom,” is rooted in an older religious tradition: we’re special a “city set on a hill.” This insanity goes back to the very religious foundation of the American colonies that were peopled by Calvinist cranks from England and Holland who thought that they were too good, too theologically pure and too “chosen” to co-exist the likes of ordinary folks. So they left those bad folks behind and soon were burning Pequot Indians to death in the name of their Old Testament “God.”
That same intolerant Puritan inheritance drives us today and divides America into “Real Americans” as Sarah Palin calls herself and her followers, and everyone else. This is the “saved” and “lost” model of theology directly applied to politics. Result? We “Real Americans” believe we’re so special that we can and should police the world!
The “holy books” all the religious cultures mentioned here are compendiums of Bronze Age tribal self-serving myths, adopted and updated by ignorant tribes in order to try to make sense of their places in the universe pre-science. Today they are the source of war and the rape of the earth.
It’s time to stop being polite about the religions that are motivating the self-deluding right wing Israelis, the self-deluding right wing Saudis and the self-deluding right wing Iranians, Americans and popes. They may all hate each other, but below the surface they all share one dreadful and silly conviction: the unfounded belief that they and they alone (and their tribes) are morally right and that the rest of us are the “other” to be suppressed, converted or sometimes killed. And they all say God is on their side.
If there is a God – I happen to believe there is, but I could be wrong – a creator, a force responsible for the magnificent diversity of nature and human aspiration, then that actual God, by definition, must despise exclusive-type religion and tribalism and the black and white world of “in” or “out” and “saved” and “lost.”
Guessing what God might actually be like by what we see around us, He, She or It is big, generous, non-ideological, wonderful and all encompassing. Just open your eyes to the earth below and heavens above and try to reconcile what you see, hear and feel with petty popes, Ayatollahs and preachers or the books they call “holy”!
If there is no creator (and who can say there is or isn’t?) then nature’s diversity and adaptability is a silent and powerful rebuke to exclusivity. Put it this way; the Rockies don’t know they’re part of an “exceptional” country and the Negev desert doesn’t know it was “given” to anyone! Nor do the sands of Medina know that they’re “holy” much less does the dust of Iran’s “holy city” of Qom know it’s “sacred,” or the plaster under the paint in the Sistine Chapel know it’s “owned” by the Vatican and the “one true church!”
The religions and tribalism of those who threaten the world the most – Iran, the state of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the Vatican and the USA – is small, inward looking and backward. It’s time to tell the truth and say that maybe it is possible to love God – if there is such an entity – but it’s not possible to love God and love the sort of tribal exclusionary religions that are taking us all down.
Reprinted with permission from the author.
Frank Schaeffer is a New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen books. He has been a frequent guest on the Rachel Maddow Show on NBC, has appeared on Oprah, been interviewed by Terri Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air and appeared on the Today Show, BBC News and many other media outlets. He is a much sought after speaker and has lectured at a wide range of venues from Harvard’s Kennedy School to the Hammer Museum/UCLA, Princeton University, Riverside Church Cathedral, DePaul University and the Kansas City Public Library.
Frank Schaeffer: How to Stop Being a Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian